Members of Congress Urge Biden, Again, To Let Leonard Peltier Go Home

There is “greater urgency” to grant clemency to the 77-year-old Native American rights activist since he tested positive for COVID-19, say House Democrats.

For the second time in recent months, House Democrats are urging President Joe Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, the 77-year-old Native American rights activist who has been in prison for 45 years and recently tested positive for COVID-19.

“On October 8, 2021, my colleagues and I requested the expedited release of Mr. Leonard Peltier from the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida,” reads a Wednesday letter to Biden, led by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “The expedited release request was based on his age, underlying health conditions, the amount of time he had already served, and his risk of medical complications due to COVID-19.”

“We write to you again requesting clemency for Mr. Peltier, but with greater urgency, since Mr. Peltier tested positive for COVID-19 on January 28, 2022.”

When Grijalva and other lawmakers wrote to Biden in October, they were joining a chorus of decadeslong protests over Peltier’s imprisonment. Peltier, a member of the American Indian Movement, was convicted over his role in the murder of two FBI agents during a 1975 shootout on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. His trial was riddled with misconduct: Prosecutors hid key evidence. The FBI threatened and coerced witnesses into lying. A juror admitted she was biased against Peltier’s race on the second day of the trial, but was allowed to stay on anyway.

Yet with no evidence that Peltier committed a crime ― something a former U.S. Attorney who helped put Peltier in prison has since admitted and is now urging Biden to release him ― the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office convicted Peltier and he was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

“We write to you again requesting clemency for Mr. Peltier, but with greater urgency," Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote to President Joe Biden.
“We write to you again requesting clemency for Mr. Peltier, but with greater urgency," Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote to President Joe Biden.
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

Peltier’s imprisonment became even more concerning late last month when he tested positive for COVID-19 — just a week after he publicly pleaded for help amid his prison facility’s prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns. He told HuffPost at the time that his prison’s constant lockdowns and failure to provide some inmates with booster shots had left him and others unbearably isolated and preparing for death.

“I’m in hell,” Peltier said, “and there is no way to deal with it but to take it as long as you can.”

A week later, he tested positive for COVID-19. Peltier was sent into quarantine after that and returned to his cell last week.

In their latest letter to Biden, House Democrats highlight that, in light of the COVID pandemic, the Department of Justice authorized the Federal Bureau of Prisons to release elderly inmates and those with underlying health conditions from federal prisons. Peltier is 77 years old and suffers from diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

“Given Mr. Peltier’s new COVID-19 diagnosis and to avoid further risks to his health and safety, we urge you to approve his pending petition for clemency on humanitarian grounds,” reads their letter. “Thank you again for your attention to this matter.”

Here’s a copy of their letter:

Signatories on the letter are Democratic Reps. Teresa Leger Fernandez (N.M.), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (Ill.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Melanie Stansbury (N.M.), Cori Bush (Mo.), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Grijalva.

Their letter is also addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Federal Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal and William Lothrop Jr., southeast regional director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Requests for comment were not immediately returned from the White House, the Justice Department or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

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